Demetrius Charles de Kavanagh Boulger.

The life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order online

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by the necessity of rescuing them.

Gordon accordingly advanced in person to Mrooli, the nearest point
to Mtesa's capital without actually crossing his frontier, and as he had
with him a strong force of his newly-raised black contingent, he felt
confident of his capacity to punish Mtesa for any act of treachery, and
to annex, if necessary, his kingdom. But Gordon did not wish to force
a war on Mtesa, or to increase the burdens of the Nile dominion. All
he wanted was the restoration of the men detained at Dubaga, and he
soon received assurances that his presence, and the moral effect of the
force he had brought with him, would attain this result without any
necessity for fighting. As Gordon worded his complaint, it was a case
not of his wishing to annex Mtesa, but of Mtesa annexing his soldiers.

Having satisfied himself that Mtesa was not willing to risk a quarrel,
General Gordon sent Nuehr Agha with ninety men to bring back the
140 men detained at Dubaga, and the task was accomplished without
any hitch or delay. This was due partly to the military demonstrations,
and partly also to a clever diplomatic move by Gordon, who wrote to
Mtesa expressing his readiness to recognise by treaty the independence
of Uganda, and to provide a safe-conduct for the King's ambassadors
to Cairo. At this time the late Dr Emin, who claimed to be an
Arab and a Mahommedan, was at Dubaga, but his influence on the
course of events was ;///, and he and Gordon never met. After the
return of the troops Gordon commenced his retirement to the Nile,
and after an arduous and dangerous march of eighty miles through a
swampy jungle beset by Kaba Rega's tribesmen, who were able to
throw their spears with accurate aim for fifty yards, he succeeded in
reaching Masindi without loss. Then Gordon drew up a plan of
campaign for the effectual subjugation of Kaba Rega, but he did not
wait to see it carried out, as the first move could not be made until
the grass was dry enough to burn. As soon as that season arrived
three columns were to march against the chief of Unyoro in the
following order — one consisting of 150 black soldiers, and 3000 of

i6o The Life of Gordon.

the Lango tribe, under Rionga, moving from Mrooli to Kisoga ; another
of about the same strength from Keroto to Masindi ; and the third
operating from the Albert Lake with the steamer. The plan was a
good one, but Kaba Rega, by having recourse to his old Fabian tactics,
again baffled it.

Although these events happened when Gordon had reached Cairo,
it will be appropriate to give here the result of this campaign. The
Unyoro chieftain retired before the Egyptians, who carried off much
cattle, and when they in turn retired, he advanced and reoccupied
his country. After a brief period the Egyptians definitely gave up
their stations at Mrooli, Foweira, and Masindi, on the left bank of the
Victoria Nile, and confined themselves to those on its right bank, and
thus finally were Mtesa and Kaba Rega left to enjoy their own rude
ideas of independence and regal power.

So far as General Gordon was concerned, the Uganda question was
then, both for this period and for his subsequent and more imjiortant
command, definitely closed. But one personal incident remains to be
chronicled. When Gordon received Mtesa's request to garrison
Dubaga, and had actually planted a station on the Victoria Lake, he
telegraphed the facts to the Khedive, who promptly replied by con-
ferring on him the Medjidieh Order. At the moment that Gordon
received this intimation he had decided that it would not be politic
to comply with Mtesa's request to garrison Dubaga^ and he had only
just succeeded in rescuing an Egyptian force from a position of danger
in the manner described. He felt that he had obtained this decoration
"under false pretences," but the recollection of the hard and honour-
able work he had performed must have soon salved his conscience.

At an early stage of his work Gordon felt disposed to throw it up,
and during the whole three years a constant struggle went on within
himself as to whether he should stay or return to England. Many
causes produced this feeling. There was, in the first place, dis-
illusionment on discovering that the whole thing, from the Egyptian
Government point of view, was a sham, and that his name was
being made use of to impose on Europe. But then he thought he saw
an opportunity of doing some useful and beneficial work, and, stifling
his disappointment, he went on. Arrived on the scene, he found him-
self thwarted by his Egyptian colleagues, and treated with indifference
by the Cairene Government. He also discovered that his troops were
worthless, and that not one of his officers, civil and military, cared a fig
for the task in hand. Their one thought was how to do nothing at all,
and Gordon's patience and energy were monopolised, and in the end
exhausted, by attempts to extract work from his unwilling subordinates.

The First Nile Mission. i6l

Even the effort to educate them up to the simple recognition that a
certain amount of work had to be done, and that unless it were well
done, it had to be done over again, resulted in failure. To the plain
instructions he gave, they would give an interpretation of their own; and
while fully admitting on explanation that this was not the proper way of
executing any task, they would invariably repeat it after their own fashion,
until at length Gordon could see no alternative to performing the task
himself. Thus were his labours indefinitely multiplied, and only his ex-
ceptional health and energy enabled him to cope with them at all. How
much they affected him in his own despite may be judged from the
exclamation which escaped him, after he had obtained a considerable
success that would have elated any other leader — " But the worry and
trouble have taken all the syrup out of the affair ! "

The personal glimpses obtainable of Gordon during these depress-
ing years, while engaged on a task he foresaw would be undone by the
weakness and indifference of the Egyptian authorities as soon as he gave
it up, are very illustrative of his energy and inherent capacity for com-
mand. The world at large was quite indifferent to the heroism and the
self-denial, amounting to self-sacrifice, which alone enabled him to carry
on his own shoulders, like a modern Atlas, the whole administration of
a scarcely conquered region, which covered ten degrees of latitude. But
we who have to consider his career in all its bearings, and to di.scover,
as it were, behind his public and private acts, the true man, cannot
afford to pass over so lightly passages that are in a very special degree
indicative of the man's character and temperament. In no ether period
of his career did he devote himself more strenuously to the details, in
themselves monotonous and uninteresting, of a task that brought him
neither present nor prospective satisfaction. \Vhen the tools with
which he was supplied failed him, as they did at every turn, he threw
himself into the struggle, and supplied the shortcomings of all the rest.
When it was a matter of pulling the boats up the river, he was the first at
the ropes, and the last to leave them, wading through the water with his
trousers up. If it was his steamer that had run aground, all the active
labour, as well as the organisation, fell on him. Sooner than add to the
work of those in attendance on him, he would be seen preparing and
cooking his own food ; and because he could do it better than his native
servant, he would clean his duck-gun, with the whole camp agape, until
his ways were realised, at an Excellency doing his own work. Nor did
he spare himself physically. His average day's walk, which satisfied
him that he was in good health, was fourteen miles ; but he often
exceeded twenty miles, and on one occasion he even walked thirty-five
miles under a tropical sun. Of the conduct of his soldiers against an


1 62 The Life of Gordon.

enemy, or in coping with the difficulties of river navigation, he was
always nervous, and whether for work or for fighting he used, he said,
"to pray them up as he did his men in China"; but without his know-
ledge, one of his own soldiers was vigilantly observant of his conduct,
and has recorded, through the instrumentality of Slatin Pasha, his
recollections of Gordon as a fighter and leader of soldiers : —

" Gordon was indeed a brave man. I was one of his chiefs in the
fight against the Mima and Khawabir Arabs ; it was in the plain of
Fafa, and a very hot day. The enemy had charged us, and had forced
back the first line, and their spears were falling thick around us ; one
came within a hair's-breadth of Gordon, but he did not seem to mind
it at all, and the victory we won was entirely due to him and his reserve
of loo men. When the fight was at its worst he found time to light a
cigarette. Never in my life did I see such a thing ; and then the
following day, when he divided the spoil, no one was forgotten, and he
kept nothing for himself. He was very tender-hearted about women
and children, and never allowed them to be distributed, as is our custom
in war, but he fed and clothed them at his own expense, and had them
sent to their homes as soon as the war was over."

This picture of Gordon lighting a cigarette in the press of a doubtful
battle may well be coupled with that already given during the Taeping
rebellion, of his standing unarmed in the breach of an assaulted stock-
ade, while around him pressed on or wavered the individuals of a
forlorn hope. It will be difficult for anyone to find in all the annals of
war another instance of human courage more nearly approaching the

In November 1875 General Gordon had fully made up his mind to
resign and return to Cairo, in consequence of the indiflerence with
which he was treated by the Khedive's Government, and he had actually
written the telegrams announcing this intention, and given orders to
pack up the stores for the passage down the Nile, when the receipt of
a long letter full of praise and encouragement from the Khedive Ismail
induced him to alter his plans, to tear up the telegrams, and to continue
his work. General Gordon gives his reason for changing his mind very
briefly : "The man had gone to all this expense under the belief that I
would stick to him ; I could not therefore leave him." So he stayed on
for another year. In July 1876 he formally and more deliberately
resigned, but the execution of this decision had to be postponed by the
necessity he felt under, as already explained, of solving the geographical
questions connected with the Nile and the Lakes, and also of securing
the southern frontier against Kaba Rega and Mtesa.

These tasks accomplished, or placed in the way of accomplishment,

The First Nile Mission. 163

there remained no let or hindrance to his departure ; and by the end of
October he was in Khartoum. But even then he felt uncertain as to
his ultimate plans, and merely telegraphed to the Cairo authorities that
he intended to come down for a time. With his back turned on the
scene of his labours, the old desire not to leave his work half done came
over him, and all the personal inconvenience and incessant hardship
and worry of the task were forgotten in the belief that he was called on
by God "to open the country thoroughly to both Lakes." He saw
very clearly that what he had accomplished in the three years of his
stay did not provide a permanent or complete cure of the evils arising
out of the slave-trade and the other accom.paniments of misgovernment,
and he did not like to be beaten, which he admitted he was if he retired
without remedying anything. These reflections explain why^ even when
leaving, his thoughts were still of returning and resuming the work, little
more than commenced, in those Mussulman countries, where he foresaw
a crisis that must come about soon.

But these thoughts and considerations did not affect his desire for
a change to Lower Egypt, or even to visit home ; and leaving Khartoum
on 12th November he reached Cairo on 2nd December. He then
formally placed his resignation in the Khedive's hands, but it was
neither accepted nor declined ; and the Khedive, in some mysterious
manner, seems to have arrived at the sound conclusion that after a brief
rest General Gordon would sicken of inaction, and that it would be no
difficult manner to lure him back to that work in the Soudan which had
already established its spell over him. Of that work, considerable as it
was as the feat of a single man, it need only be said that it would
have remained transitory in its effect and inconclusive in its results
if General Gordon had finally turned his back on it at the close of his
tenure of the post of Governor of the Equatorial Province at the end
of the year 1876. When he left Cairo in the middle of December for
England there was really very Httle reason to doubt that at the right
moment he would be ready to take up the work again.



When General Gordon left Egypt for England in December 1876
it was with the expressed determination not to return ; but the real
state of his mind was not bitterness at any personal grievance, or even
desire for rest, although he avowed his intention of taking six months'
leave, so much as disinclination to leave half done a piece of work
in which he had felt much interest, and with which he had identified
himself. Another consideration presented itself to him, and several
of his friends pressed the view on him with all the weight they
possessed, that no signal success could be achieved unless he were
placed in a position of supreme authority, not merely at the Equator,
but throughout the vast province of the Soudan. Such was the
decision Gordon himself, influenced no doubt by the views of two
friends whose names need not be mentioned, but who were well
known for their zeal in the anti-slavery cause, had come to a few
weeks after his arrival in England ; and not thinking that there was
any reasonable probability of the Khedive appointing him to any such
post, he telegraphed to the British Consul-General, Mr Vivian, his
determination not to return to Egypt. This communication was
placed before the Khedive Ismail, who had a genuine admiration for
Gordon, and who appreciated the value of his services. He at once
took the matter into his own hands, and wrote the following letter,
which shows that he thoroughly understood the arguments that would
carry weight with the person to whom they were addressed : —

" My Dear Gordon, — I was astonished yesterday to learn of the
despatch you had sent to Mr Vivian, in which you inform me that

1 66 The Life of Gordon.

you will not return ; all the more so when I recall your interview at
Abdin, during which you promised me to return, and complete the
work we had commenced together. I must therefore attribute your
telegram to the very natural feelings which influenced you on finding
yourself at home and among your friends. But I cannot, my dear
Gordon Pasha, think that a gentleman like Gordon can be found
wanting with regard to his solemn promise, and thus, my dear Gordon,
I await your return according to that promise. — Your affectionate


To such a letter as this a negative reply was difficult, if not im-
possible ; and when General Gordon placed the matter in the hands
of the Duke of Cambridge, as head of the army, he was told that
he was bound to return. He accordingly telegraphed to the Khedive
that he was willing to go back to the Soudan if appointed Governor-
General, and also that he would leave at once for Cairo to discuss
the matter. On his arrival there, early in February 1877, the discussion
of the terms and conditions on which Gordon would consent to
return to the Upper Nile was resumed. He explained his views at
length to the Minister, Cherif Pasha, who had succeeded Nubar as
responsible adviser to the Khedive, concluding with the ultimatum :
" Either give me the Soudan, or I will not go." The only compromise
that Gordon would listen to was that the Khedive's eldest son should
be sent as Viceroy to Khartoum, when he, for his part, would be willing
to resume his old post at the Equator. The Egyptian Ministers and
high officials were not in favour of any European being entrusted with
such a high post, and they were especially averse to the delegation
of powers to a Christian, which would leave him independent of every-
one except the Khedive. But for the personal intervention of the
Khedive, Gordon would not have revisited Cairo ; and but for the
same intervention he would never have been made Governor-General,
as, after a week's negotiation with Cherif, an agreement was farther
off than ever, and Gordon's patience was nearly exhausted. The
Khedive, really solicitous for Gordon's help, and suspecting that there
was something he did not know, asked Mr Vivian to explain the
matter fully to him. On hearing the cause of the difficulty, Ismail
at once said : " I will give Gordon the Soudan," and two days later
he saw and told General Gordon the same thing, which found formal
expression in the following letter, written on 17th February 1877, the
day before Gordon left for Massowah : —

" My Dear Gordon Pasha, — Appreciating your honourable char-
acter, your energy, and the great services that you have already rendered

Governor-General of the Soudan. 167

to my Government, I have decided to unite in one great Governor-
Generalship the whole of the Soudan, Darfour, and the Equatorial
Provinces, and to entrust to you the important mission of directing it.
I am about to issue a Decree to this effect.

"The territories to be included in this Government being very
vast, it is necessary for good administration that you should have
under your orders three Vakils — one for the Soudan properly so called
and the Provinces of the Equator, another for Darfour, and the third for
the Red Sea coast and the Eastern Soudan.

"In the event of your deeming any changes necessary, you will
make your observations to me.

"The Governor-Generalship of the Soudan is completely inde-
pendent of the Ministry of Finance.

" I direct your attention to two points, viz. — the suppression of
slavery, and the improvement of the means of communication.

"Abyssinia extends along a great part of the frontiers of the
Soudan. I beg of you, when you are on the spot, to carefully examine
into the situation of affairs, and I authorise you, if you deem it
expedient, to enter into negotiations with the Abyssinian authorities
with the view of arriving at a settlement of pending questions.

"I end by thanking you, my dear Gordon Pasha, for your kindness
in continuing to Egypt your precious services, and I am fully per-
suaded that, with the aid of your great experience and your devotion,
we shall bring to a happy end the work we are pursuing together.

" Believe, my dear Gordon Pasha, in my sentiments of high esteem
and sincere friendship. — Your affectionate Ismail."

Nothing could be more gracious than this letter, which made
General Gordon independent of the men w^ho he feared would thwart
him, and responsible to the Khedive alone. It was followed up a few
weeks later — that is to say, after the new Governor-General had left fo^
his destination — by the conferring of the military rank of Muchir or
Marshal. At the same time the Khedive sent him a handsome uniform,
with ;^i5o worth of gold lace on the coat, and the Grand Cordon of
the Medjidieh Order, which, it may be worth noting here, General
Gordon only wore when in Egyptian uniform. These acts on the part
of the Khedive Ismail show that, whatever may have been his reasons
for taking up the slavery question, he was really sincere in his desire to
support Gordon, who fully realised and appreciated the good-will and
friendly intentions of this Egyptian ruler. When an unfavourable
judgment is passed on Ismail Pasha, his consistent support of General
Gordon may be cited to show that neither his judgment nor his heart

1 68 The Life of Gordon.

was as bad as his numerous detractors would have the world

Having settled the character of the administration he was to
conduct, General Gordon did not waste a day at Cairo. The holiday
and rest to which he was fully entitled, and of which there can be no
doubt that he stood greatly in need, were reduced to the smallest
limits. Only two months intervened between his departure from Cairo
for London on coming down from the Equator, and his second depar-
ture from Cairo to the Soudan. Much of that period had been passed
in travelling, much more in exhaustino; and unconeenial negotiation in
the Egyptian capital. All the brief space over enabled him to do Avas
to pass the Christmas with several members of his family, to which he
was so deeply attached, to visit his sisters in the old home at South-
ampton, and to run down for a day to Gravesend, the scene of his
philanthropic labours a few years before. Yet, with his extraordinary
recuperative force, he hastened with fresh strength and spirit to trke up
a more arduous and more responsible task than that he had felt
compelled to relinc^uish so short a period before. With almost boyish
energy, tempered by a profound belief in the workings of the Divine
will, he turned his face once more to that torrid region, where at that
time and since scenes of cruelty and human suffering have been enacted
rarely surpassed in the history of the world.

Having thus described the circumstances and conditions under
which General Gordon consented to take up the Soudan question, it is
desirable to explain clearly what were the objects he had in his own
mind, and what was the practical task he set himself to accomplish.
Fortunately, this description need not be based on surmise or individual
conjecture. General Gordon set forth his task in the plainest language,
and he held the clearest, and, as the result showed, the most correct
views as to what had to be done, and the difficulties that stood in the
way of its accomplishment. He wrote on the very threshold of his
undertaking these memorable sentences : —

" I have to contend with many vested interests, with fanaticism,
with the abolition of hundreds of Arnauts, Turks, etc., now acting as
Bashi-Bazouks, with inefficient governors, with wild independent tribes
of Bedouins, and with a large semi-independent province lately under
Zebehr Pasha at Bahr Gazelle. . . . With terrific exertion, in two or
three years' time I may, with God's administration, make a good
province, with a good army, and a fair revenue and peace, and an
increased trade, and also have suppressed slave raids."

No one can dispute either the Titanic magnitude of the task to be
accomplished or the benefit its accomplishment would confer on a

Governor-General of the Soudan. i6g

miserably unhappy population. How completely the project was
carried out by one man, where powerful Governments and large armies
have failed both before and since, has now to be demonstrated.

General Gordon proceeded direct from Cairo to Massowah, which
route he selected because he hoped to settle the Abyssinian dispute
before he commenced operations in the Soudan. Both the Khedive
and the British Government wished a termination to be put to the
troubles that had for some tim.e prevailed in the border lands of
Abyssinia and the Eastern Soudan, and it was hoped that Gordon's
reputation and energy would facilitate the removal of all difificulties with
King John, who, after the death of Theodore, had succeeded in obtain-
ing the coveted title of " Negus."

In order to understand the position, a few historical facts must be
recorded. By the year 1874 King John's authority was established
over every province except in the south, Shoa, where Menelik retained
his independence, and in the north, Bogos, which was seized in the year
stated by Munzinger Bey, a Swiss holding the post of Governor of
Massowah under the Khedive. In seizing Bogos, Munzinger had
dispossessed its hereditary chief, Walad el Michael, who retired to
Hamagem, also part of his patrimony, Avhere he raised forces in self-
defence. Munzinger proposed to annex Hamagem, and the Khedive
assented ; but he entrusted the command of the expedition to Arokol
Bey, and a Danish officer named Arendrup as military adviser, and
Munzinger was forced to be content with a minor command at Tajoura,
where he was killed some months later. The Egyptian expedition
meantime advanced with equal confidence and carelessness upon
Hama^em, Michael attacked it in several detachments, and had the

Online LibraryDemetrius Charles de Kavanagh BoulgerThe life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order → online text (page 19 of 40)